One Word 2018: Trust


For the last few years I have been using the idea of ‘one word’ as a type of New Year resolution. With my birthday so close to January 1st, I don’t usually do resolutions, but use my birthday as a day of reflection and planning. However, I embraced One Word and have found it helpful.

In my second year of One Word, I chose the word ‘sparkle’. This was a particularly good one because when I didn’t feel like I had any energy (or hope) it reminded me to find what little spark was there to hold on to.

Last year my unofficial word was ‘experiment’. My experiments have shifted my career path and my health significantly. While I still enjoy the wondrous, imaginative world of fiction, my career focus is on the factual wonders of the world, and I allow more time for creative play. I look after myself better and am firmer with my boundaries.

This year I settled on the word ‘trust’, which has meaning in several ways for me: to trust myself; to trust in my talents, intelligence, and creativity; to trust that everything happens for a reason; to trust others, especially in the light of current and upcoming collaborations; and to trust that life / my life has a purpose, even if it is one that I concoct for myself.

I wrote a letter to myself with these and other thoughts to pull out when I am feeling down, and it’s already been used so I am grateful to past Zee for doing it!


Change or failure? A pep talk to myself

Thoughts & Ramblings

Changing direction can feel like failure. You know, we’re taught to stick to things and not give up, to persist, to be consistent. Giving up is like admitting that the challenge has beaten you; that you’re not made of strong enough stuff.

So if I change my mind – if I stop persisting and give up to try something else – does that mean I’m not made of strong enough stuff? Is it the same as giving up?

This reaction emerged when I sat down to write this blog post. Goodness knows how many times I’ve blogged about changes. Why can’t I just stick something out?

I’ve realised that the sweet spot between my skills and my passions is creative non-fiction (including, perhaps, working with other authors as a publisher). This is quite a move from children’s fantasy fiction, and involves a change of audience as well.

So is this just me following a shiny new idea because fiction has ‘beaten’ me? Is this just giving up in a blue mushroom disguise?

I hope not.

I only started writing about five years ago. I hadn’t written a word of fiction before that since intermediate school, so I pretty much dived in head first, and everything I’ve published has been in that five year window.

So how on earth could I have expected to know what I wanted from the start? I couldn’t. Of course there were going to be changes! I was writing stories that were personal and creative, playing with zines, testing collaborations – in a word, experimenting.

And what’s the whole point of an experiment? That you don’t know what the outcome will be. It might be to find out if something is true, or to discover something new. After five years of experimenting, I am closer to something that will work for me.

Of course, the experimenting isn’t going to stop. It’s a bit like editing. First, you check the story as a whole – does it make sense? Is it exciting and engaging? Then you get into finer and finer details. At the moment, I’m refining rather than all-out experimenting.

This isn’t me throwing in the towel. It’s evaluating the outcomes of my experiments to create a business that is fulfilling, rewarding, within my skill set (but still challenging), and revolves around something I am incredibly passionate about: the beauty and wonder of our natural world.

And it’s not to say I won’t ever publish fiction again. I have The Train To Nowhere still in the works, and I’m sure there’ll be some more chapter books in my future, too – you can’t get rid of me that easily!

I am not going to see myself as a failure because I am open to change. In the words of Walt Disney: “Progress is impossible without change.” I am a work in progress, and I am proud of my work.

Go forth & experiment.

On bookselling: you get back what you give


I’ve been selling at events for a while now. The first was The Caretaker of Imagination book launch, then craft markets, and finally bigger events like New Zealand’s annual zinefests and the NZ Book Festival. Not being a salesperson at heart, I’ve learnt a lot.

Last year, the NZ Book Festival almost didn’t happen. It was only in it’s third year, though, so we pulled a team together and gave it a good shot.

On the day I made conversation with customers, shared my story about how I got into writing, and repeated my ‘elevator pitch’ for books people were interested in dozens of times throughout the day (with plenty of help from my niece – thanks, Angie!). My setup wasn’t great and I was feeling a bit flustered but I made my stall fee back, as well as a small profit on top of that. Besides sales, I launched the second annual NZ Young Writers Anthology, met some wonderful people, and got to catch up with a bunch of my author friends.

It surprised me then how many people complained about their lack of sales afterwards. An author friend, Kirsten McKenzie, wrote this brilliant post about the do’s and don’t’s of selling. Read it. While I certainly didn’t have the upbringing that Kirsten did, I’ve learnt what she’s learnt: engage with your customers, don’t sit down, smile, have a tablecloth, a table full of books, and don’t play on your cellphone the whole time.

At most events I’ve been to, I’ve done well. However, at Tauranga Zinefest last weekend I broke most of my rules. The problem was that all week, and the previous evening, I’d been working on two new stories. I was still in creative mode, and I just wasn’t in the mood to sell or engage with people. And guess what? It showed. The organisers of the zinefest did an amazing job, but because I didn’t bring my A-game to the event, I didn’t do nearly as well as I usually would.

It reminded me how important it is to bring myself fully to every event I attend. No matter what mood I’m in, I need to be there for the customer and engage with them, and make sure that my stock levels and signage are what they need to be. I’m going to take this lesson forward for the rest of my events – onwards and upwards x

On over sharing


Sometimes I’m aware that I say a lot more than many people would about the stuff that I’m struggling with, as well as what I’m celebrating. I do this quite consciously and for good reasons.

On an old blog, I wrote a post about only seeing people’s ‘highlight reel’ – whether online or off. It was after a conversation with a couple of writer friends. One commented on how productive and confident I was, and how well I was doing, when they were riddled with self doubt. It was the concept that we only see the highlights of a person’s life – we don’t get to see behind the scenes.

Um, excuse me? I was full of self doubt, and there were a plenty of days where I achieved nowhere near what I wanted to achieve. If it wasn’t for my partner, and my then-new writer friends Amanda Staley and J. C. Hart with their encouragement and words of wisdom, I’d have given up. From then, I decided that I was going to share more behind-the-scenes stuff. I still think this is important – I don’t want to be seen as this person who just does things and achieves them with no problem in the world. That’s not a way to inspire people – it’s just a way to make themselves feel crappy in comparison. Last week after a school visit I got an email from the teacher affirming this:

“It is wonderful for the children to see real people talking about this and it will help them understand that it is not something ‘weird’ about them if they experience any of that – it is ok to ask for help and admit life is not always peachy and easy. Thank you so much for your openness and for providing a good platform to start a discussion.”

So reason no. 1 is just about being a real person, because real people can be real role models.

The other is about mental health. I hid it for most of my life – hid it pretty well, too – and was diagnosed a few years ago. The official diagnosis meant lots of things, one of them being I could talk about it without the perceived need to convince people it was real. Many people are still surprised though. I know I’m seen as a young, pretty, privileged, and capable woman – not the kind of person that people picture when they think of mental health problems. It’s important to me to help break that stereotype and stigma: having depression is not a weakness, and it doesn’t mean I can’t function in life. It just means I need to look after myself while giving to others. I also believe there is a positive side to depression, and anxiety, but we only focus on the negative.

So reason no. 2 is about breaking mental health stigmas, and showing that it is not a sign of weakness.

And what about celebrating achievements? Well, I am actually proud of what I do! I’m also excited when I manage to achieve something I never thought I could do, or touch someone in a way that inspires them to go on and try something new, or feel better about themselves, or just feel a little bit better about themselves. I want the world to be a happy place, and I want to hold my place in that happy world. I’m going to keep celebrating my wins because they excite me and I worked for them! I also want to see more people celebrating their successes. While there’s definitely an up-side to Tall Poppy Syndrome (I do believe we’re all of equal value), one of the drawbacks is that we tend to downplay our achievements. I want to celebrate my win of publishing a book, even though billions of people have done it before me; I want to celebrate my two sales on Etsy even though that’s a bad week for other people. It doesn’t matter how small my win is in comparison to others – it matters that it’s a win for me. And I want to help you celebrate your wins. We’ll be in a much happier world when we can recognise and celebrate our achievements without shame.

So reason no. 3 is about recognising and being proud of my work – and encouraging that in other people.

I feel sometimes like my honest, open sharing is seen in a negative light (attention-seeking or complaining about a privileged life), but I also feel that it helps more people than it annoys, and that is far more important to me. It also just feels like it’s a more real version of me on the internet, and I’m all for being real ❤

P.S. Featured image is me as a kid, because that’s about as real as it gets. Also cuteness.

Zine Workshop: Eight Page Mini Zine


Last week I went to Waikowhai Intermediate School and did a zine workshop with them. Before I visited, I sent some slides for them to look at, to start thinking about what they could write/draw about in their zines (we only had an hour so we didn’t get into collage).

So I thought I’d share it here. With my upcoming zine workshop (July 15th – free & friendly, details here) and a lot of interest in the format, this might get a few of you started. If you’ve got an idea you want to test, or a question, feel free to tweet/facebook/instagram me @zrsouthcombe – or leave a comment below 🙂

Feel free to use these slides for personal or educational use, but I’d appreciate a link back to Also, let me know! I’d love to hear about how you’ve used them.

Here’s a .ppt version for you to download: What the zine?

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I thought about making a video about how to make the mini zines that we did at the workshop, but there are already so many online so I’ve linked to this one which is kinda fun (they say 8.5×11, but A4 – or any other size – works just as well). I can’t emphasise enough that you can make your zine about ANYTHING you want!